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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

George Bernard Shaw: Early Blogger and Secret Bondage Pornographer???



George Bernard Shaw, pulling strings as he is wont to do.

George Bernard Shaw must have cleverly included bondage porn in his plays and his prefaces to his plays, because right about the time I started having curiously satisfying dreams of women tied up and getting thoroughly fucked, I was reading a lot of Shaw.

And prior to Shaw there were those famous bondage fiends Max Shulman, Robert Benchley, H. Allen Smith, James Thurber and Jack Douglas, among others.

I had no, repeat no, access to bondage porn of any kind prior to reaching adulthood, which was why I made my own. Like a lot of young adults of my generation, I thought I was uniquely perverted, for I had never encountered any references to Betty Page, much less seen a picture of her tied up and wearing a ballgag. She was well before my time anyway, but was the only mainstream icon of bondage prior to The Story of O.

The only bondage image I can recall from those days was the cover of a cheap pulp crime novel called, "Tonight, She's Yours" showing a bound damsel in a negligee anxiously watching a bunch of criminal types playing cards. And we're not talking whist or Old Maid either, these were Serious Bad Guys.

My primary recreational outlet was the public library of the rural town in which I lived. It was well stocked for a rural public library, but that's not saying much, I'm afraid.

My first love as a reader was science fiction and fantasy, but it didn't take me long to read every last book under that category the library had, especially in summer when my reading habit was a book a day, and if I hadn't had that library card I'd have been reduced to knocking over convenience stores so I could go to bookstores and finance my reading jones.

After science fiction and fantasy, my favorite kind of reading was humor. The library had a good selection of humor for a rural library, but ... it was, shall we say, kinda stale. That's how I got hooked on your Robert Benchleys, your James Thurbers, your Max Shulmans. (I'm pretty sure Benchley and/or Shulman were blacklisted during the McCarthy era. I guess the local witch-hunters never got around to purging the library of their pre-Commie writings, probably because they figured nobody reads that stuff. They figured WRONG, baby!)

Eventually I ran out of outdated humor collections and got really desperate. I asked the librarian about where else in the library I might find some yuks. She said she had heard George Bernard Shaw was funny (I think she saw me coming and decided to edumacate me). So I checked out a collection of Shaw plays and prefaces (Shaw always writes a lengthy preface to his plays, often an almost gossipy essay touching on politics, religion, etc. He would have been really comfortable writing a blog. If you read several of his prefaces in succession, it's obvious he was using them as a serial blog.)

To tell the truth, Shaw wasn't really a humorist like Benchley and Shulman, but he had a razor sharp wit and a real taste for skewering Victorian hypocrisy and pretense, especially in relation to class. And if there had been any Victorian hypocrisy and pretense around at the time, I would have been SOOO ready to work it over. If there had been anyone around trying to oppress others for rolling their "r"s or dropping their "h"s, I would have been SOOO ready with a witty epigram, or perhaps a bon mot or a mot juste. But I was living in the Deep South at the time, and although there was plenty of class oppression and hypocrisy floating around, most of it had to do with skin color (though the Deep South WAS and IS rich in sexual hypocrisy).

Unfortunately, Shaw's awareness of sexual hypocrisy arose during the Victorian Era (he was born in 1858, which means he would have been in his 20s and 30s from 1878 to 1898). In my day, pure-D Victorian hypocrisy has been hard to come by -- even in the Deep South we have long passed the point where arms and legs were referred to as "limbs" so they'd be less sexy.

I was like a fabulously well trained athlete in a sport that no longer existed. "42-man squamish! Anybody up for a game of 42-man squamish? I'll spot you the first kronger and STILL take you to school!"

The thing about Shaw, though, was that his prose was unusually crisp for the late 1800s, probably due to his experience as a playwright. His sentences, although sometimes lengthy by modern standards, weren't the polysyllabic trainwrecks that SOME conterporaries of his (Bulwer-Llyton, anyone?) indulged in. With very little change Shaw could probably have written a modern blog, if he'd been able to back off from the grammatical reforms he was het up on. (Shaw didnt use apostrophes, he wrote "dont" for "don't" and "wont" for won't and "cant" for "can't" -- he was just lucky the proper elision for "could not" wasn't something closer to the elision for "cannot.") And Shaw also used fonetik speling, which kuld take sum getting used to as wel. Especially with words like "marij" -- you know, that whole getting hitched thing.)

It's very hard to figure out where Shaw slipped in the bondage stuff that corrupted me, given that he was a notably asexual person and his writings tended to reflect it. As one critic put it, "Reading Shaw can teach you everything there is to know about human beings -- except that they have two different sexes." Although Shaw took on issues like romance, marriage, cuckoldry and prostitution in plays such as "Man and Superman," "Candide" and "Mrs. Warren's Professsion" he invariably did so in such a dry and philosophical manner that it really took some attention-paying to note that the plays had anything to do with sex.

Shulman, Benchley, Douglas and Ring Lardner, Jr., were more willing to deal with sexual subjects, but almost always in that 50s "take my wife ... please!" manner. Harbingers of the sexual revolution they were not. They might hint about some of the things that beatniks and jazz musicians got up to, but never all that explicitly. If you didn't already know what beatniks and jazz musicians were up to, you wouldn't learn it from them.

And I did not know what beatniks and jazz musicians were up to. They were too far before my time. They might as well have been flappers and stage-door Johnnies.

(Of course, there were all sorts of movies that make it perfectly clear that stage-door Johnnies hung around backstage at theaters and made goo-goo eyes at showgirls, but I never watched such movies -- they were all in black and white, and nobody watched those!)

Lest you think I am exaggerating about my ignorance, let me tell you how protective parents in the Deep South are of their kiddies. I was once in the Boy Scouts. I am not ashamed of it, I just didn't know any better. Anyway, this was one of those troops that did lots of camping and hiking instead of sitting around in a room talking about how virtuous they were, so they were several notches above many Scout troops. And we went on a long hike once. 50 miles, spread over a couple of days. In midsummer. In the Deep South. Nowadays, that would be considered tantamount to torture. We were under the impression that we were having fun. (Except for the kid who got prickly rash -- I believe he would have voted for the torture scenario.)

We were promised a treat at the end of the hike, a chance to see a movie for free at a theater. We figured that since it had been a long hike, it had to be something special. We were hoping it would be a recently released Bond film. That would be really cool. Explosions, shootings, car chases ... we were THERE for it.

What we got was ... and I am not making this up ... "Tammy Tell Me True." Somebody must have fished out of a closet somewhere, I mean, it had been a long while since it was a first-run movie. And what's more, not a movie to show to the sort of red-blooded Boy Scouts who go on 50-mile hikes! "Tammy Tell Me True" was a fricking GIRL SCOUT movie! Who did they think we were? We were furious! We had wanted ... we DESERVED ... a fricking Bond movie!

Many of us left the theater in disgust, after we'd scored our drinks and popcorn of course. We weren't crazy. But the Scout leaders and many parents clearly did not understand what an insult showing that movie to us was. They were that far out of it. Think a whole community of Flanderses. You won't be far off.

I never even saw a Playboy except as a cover on a magazine rack I could only look longingly at and never purchase. I knew that any attempt to purchase Playboy by a kid would result in finger-pointing, shocked expressions, fire alarms going off, SWAT team deployments, and possibly pursuit by crowds carrying torches and pitchforks.

And yet, I was creating drawings that looked very much like this image from Sex and Submission, except that it was very badly drawn, of course. (Let's say I was capable of creating something more than a diagram, but not anything anyone would confuse with art, fine or otherwise.) Where we these images coming from? My sex fantasies of course, but at the time I wouldn't admit that even to myself.

And the thing is, it couldn't be me or who I was that had anything to do with these dreams and drawings. It had to be the media, because as we all know everything that anyone does is a direct result of something they've seen on TV or the movies, or in the rare instances of readers such as myself, read in a book.

OK, I did watch TV but I just couldn't relate to it. In TV land, women walked around dressed in revealing clothing in venues other than a swimming pool, and sometimes deliberately acted sexy. This was completely contrary to my experience. I learned early on that TV was entertaining, but had nothing to do with the real world.

OK, I did occasionally see women bound and gagged on TV, but it never occurred to me that such images had anything to do with my bondage dreams and fantasies. For one thing, they were fully clothed. For another, they weren't having sex with anyone, especially me. For another, they appeared not to be having a good time. And for yet anotherer thing, the bondage was generally badly done, brief, badly lit and incidental, even when the whole plot of the show was, say, a kidnapping.

I must admit, the time I saw Emma Peel tied to a chair while wearing a leather catsuit with waist cutouts in a rerun of the Avengers, I was quite struck. But I didn't think it was the bondage. I thought it was the sexy leather suit, and the sexy Diana Rigg inside of it. And to a large extent, I was probably right, especially about the sexy Diana Rigg.

Y'know, thinking about it, I do have a theory about why Shaw, Benchley, Shulman, Douglas and the guys slipped sexual bondage corruption stuff into their writings. (Though I still have no idea HOW they did it, due to the near-total absence of sexual bondage content in their writings.) There IS a thread that unites them all, for you see, George Bernard Shaw was a Fabian socialist. Now, why and how Victorian socialists were influenced by Fabian is the topic of another essay, one that makes even less sense than this one. But the fact that Shaw was a socialist and Benchley, Douglas and Shulman were accused Communists points to one and only one conclusion: it's all part of a dirty Commie plot to destroy the youth of America. The scheming bastards.

I rest my case. George Bernard Shaw was a secret bondage pornographer. It's only logical.

4 comments:

kdnpr said...

"Like a lot of young adults of my generation, I thought I was uniquely perverted"

Ahhh, the 70's I remember. I KNEW where you grew up was no different.

kdnpr said...

"My primary recreational outlet was the public library of the rural town in which I lived. It was well stocked for a rural public library, but that's not saying much, I'm afraid.

I guess the local witch-hunters never got around to purging the library"


Funny you mentioned. Was just discussing Hardy Boy & such books with someone and said some of the plots that were apparently edited out of the later (60s? or 70s?) ones. yeah, Hardy boy, serious! You joked about kids signing out the same falling apart books their parents did, but now thankful able to read something before idiots with too much time on their hands got to it.

You just know typical 60s crap like that inspired Fahrenheit 451

Pat Powers said...

Ahhh, the 70's I remember. I KNEW where you grew up was no different.

I'm not admitting to any dates other than "prior to the advent of the Internet. It's embarrassing enough being a George Bernard Shaw fan in an age when most twentysomethings don't even know who the guy is.

Funny you mentioned. Was just discussing Hardy Boy & such books with someone and said some of the plots that were apparently edited out of the later (60s? or 70s?) ones. yeah, Hardy boy, serious! You joked about kids signing out the same falling apart books their parents did, but now thankful able to read something before idiots with too much time on their hands got to it.

Yeah, I think the new Nancy Drew novels in the 60s or 70s or whenever were almost completely lacking in bondage scenes, unlike the original series which was of course chock-full of them.

You just know typical 60s crap like that inspired Fahrenheit 451

I believe there were plenty of actual book burnings to inspire Fahrenheit 451.

kdnpr said...

"I'm not admitting to any dates other than "prior to the advent of the Internet."

Hmmm, do they still have the mighty Pat Powers under their "you never did without/rationing/blitz bla blah blah" guilt trip?? ;)
Not me, went to that well too many times. So I'll say exact dates.

"It's embarrassing enough being a George Bernard Shaw fan in an age when most twentysomethings don't even know who the guy is."

Hmmmm. I guess you haven't been to the Shaw festival in the Niagara tourist area here? Many a younger couple.

I do agree Shaw would have had fun with the militant solutions to demobilisation antics, (See I'll date!), if lived longer. Whilst I do sympathise that the Elders carrying on with promiscuous, irresponsible behaviour caused problems, I couldn't take their disciplined enough to step back from Sodom crap. Was the late 40s so wild they had to edit the Hardy Boy books?? Ooookay

Shaw would've seen through the 60s/70s bvllsheeyit. His fans know it. Perhaps reason for the popularity?

One of your better posts Pat, even without the dates. ;)